Teaching older dogs new tricks for a longer life

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treating canine cognitive dysfunction training exercises
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Researchers at the University of Adelaide are investigating if special training exercises can help older dogs who are starting to show signs of canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD).

Keeping the mind active as we age is often recommended to ward off or improve symptoms of dementia in people, but can the same advice also be put into practice for pet dogs as they enter their twilight years?

The team are looking at whether special training exercises such as scent tasks or obstacle courses can help ‘paws’ time for older pooches who are starting to show signs of CCD, also known as doggy dementia.

“Previous studies have shown that non-medicated interventions have improved symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s in humans, and it’s hoped our study will replicate those findings in dogs and help them to fight the signs of cognitive decline,” said University of Adelaide PhD student Tracey Taylor from the School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, who runs the training sessions.

While more dogs are enjoying longer lives thanks to advances in veterinary medicines, doggy dementia is also becoming more common. Researchers believe the disease is under-reported by pet owners because many of the signs are often dismissed as ‘old age’.

“Some studies suggest up to 60 per cent of senior dogs, mostly over the age of 11, are affected by doggy dementia,” Taylor said. 

“Often owners think their dog is just slowing down but symptoms such as getting lost at home, changing interactions towards other dogs or humans, and vacant staring can all be signs of CCD.

“Previous studies have shown that non-medicated interventions have improved symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s in humans, and it’s hoped our study will replicate those findings in dogs and help them to fight the signs of cognitive decline.”

As part of the study, participants will attend free training sessions held once a week, over five weeks. During the session, dogs will undergo brain training activities such as scent tasks, balance, and obstacle navigation. 

All the activities are designed to be low or no impact in line with the needs of the elderly pets, with a focus on positive reinforcement methods to encourage the dogs as they carry out the different tasks. The dogs involved in the trial are also required to wear an activity tracker to monitor movement.

“There are only a few medications that vets can prescribe to mitigate signs of dementia in dogs and new treatments are urgently needed,” principal investigator A/Prof Susan Hazel said.

“If this intervention works, it could be an easy, effective and accessible way to give our furry friends quality of life during their senior years until new medications become available.”

The researchers are looking for more dogs who are over the age of eight to participate in the trial, which is expected to continue until the end of the year.

For more information on the strict eligibility criteria, visit this website.  

This article was sourced from the University of Adelaide Newsroom website.

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